Business Administration

The Top Online Healthcare MBA Programs Have a Lot in Common with the Best On-Campus Programs

The Top Online Healthcare MBA Programs Have a Lot in Common with the Best On-Campus Programs
Addressing the critical problems hospitals and other healthcare facilities face takes not only business savvy but also a thorough understanding of the medical landscape. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry July 7, 2020

Online degree programs—especially MBA programs— can't replicate *every* facet of the on-campus experience. Some online healthcare MBA programs come close, though.

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Some healthcare challenges can only be solved by doctors and other clinical healthcare professionals. Other healthcare challenges—like rising costs and inequity in the healthcare industry—can only be solved through strategic decision-making by management and industry transformation. Health administration is its own discipline because success in the world of medicine is about more than maximizing efficiency and balancing the books. Business savvy alone isn’t enough, but neither is knowing how to treat patients. Both are equally essential.

With a Master of Business Administration, you can start solving some of the business administration problems plaguing health systems. With a healthcare MBA, you can potentially transform health system management and improve not only operational efficiency but also patient satisfaction and patient outcomes.

It’s an inspiring prospect, but also a daunting one. Addressing the critical problems hospitals and other healthcare facilities face takes not only business savvy but also a thorough understanding of the medical landscape. Gaining that understanding means studying management and finance, health services delivery, health policy, human resources in healthcare, epidemiology, and ethics.

Pursuing an MBA in Healthcare is one way to get the skills and knowledge you’ll need to launch a career in healthcare administration. But what if you’re not ready—or willing—to take two years off to study full-time on-campus?

That’s where online healthcare MBA programs come in. These programs are designed to prepare students to meet the leadership, management, and operations challenges of healthcare in the United States—no matter where those students are located. Most also offer a degree of flexibility that allows MBA students to continue meeting other obligations, such as working or taking care of family members. And while some of these programs are geared toward students with professional backgrounds in healthcare management or business, others accept applicants looking to change careers.

In this article, we list the top online healthcare MBA programs and cover:

  • What is a healthcare MBA and what can you do with this degree?
  • Why do some students decide to pursue online MBAs?
  • How do online healthcare MBA programs differ from on-campus programs?
  • Which schools offer the top online healthcare MBA programs?
  • Do these programs have unusually strict prerequisites?
  • Are there any downsides to pursuing an MBA in Healthcare online?
  • How can online students maximize the value of their degrees?

What is a healthcare MBA and what can you do with this degree?

A healthcare MBA is first and foremost a business degree. Nearly all programs—whether online or on-campus, full-time or part-time—include core courses in finance, accounting, leadership, organizational design, marketing, statistics, and operations management. In addition to those core courses, students take required healthcare courses, a selection of healthcare electives, or a mix of both core courses related to healthcare administration and electives that may or may not be focused on health management.

Colleges and universities that offer online healthcare MBA degrees treat these programs differently. Some consist primarily of core business courses and only require students to take a handful of electives related to the business of healthcare. Other programs are much more customizable, with curricula that is made up of core courses and healthcare management electives in equal measure. A few prioritize health administration and present business concepts through a healthcare lens.

The students in these programs come from different backgrounds and are on different career pathways. Some are doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers who pursue this degree because they want to transition into leadership roles in health systems or manage their own practices more effectively. Some are business professionals who’ve amassed years of experience in other sectors and want to move into healthcare administration or management roles in biotech, the pharmaceutical industry, or government healthcare agencies. Finally, there are newly minted business bachelor’s degree holders and people looking to switch careers.

After graduating from an online healthcare MBA program, all of these students will have the knowledge and skills to advance into positions like healthcare administrator, hospital administrator, healthcare manager, medical practice manager, or hospital CEO. Some strike out and become healthcare management consultants, helping different kinds of medical facilities optimize their operations, finances, policies, information systems, and organizational structure.

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Why do some students decide to pursue online MBAs?

Deciding between an on-campus program and an online program can be tough when you’re pursuing an MBA. There are, after all, some compelling reasons to choose the traditional format, the most obvious being that a lot of the top healthcare MBA programs offered by prestigious business schools are only offered on-campus. There are plenty of well-ranked colleges and universities that do offer an MBA in Healthcare for distance learners. These are often just what career switchers, busy business leaders, and people in areas without a lot of higher learning institutions are looking for.

Students pursuing healthcare MBAs online tend to be older and have more work experience, and they may not be able or willing to take time off of work. They may also have personal commitments that make studying on-campus or taking classes during business hours challenging. Online MBA programs often schedule classes in the evenings and on weekends. In some cases, programs follow an asynchronous or self-directed format that involves limited live instruction.

Some students choose online healthcare MBA programs because they are looking for an affordable way to gain new credentials. While online healthcare management programs aren’t typically less expensive in terms of tuition costs than on-campus programs—especially not at top business schools—remote study can save students money in other ways. Commuting and housing costs can add up quickly, which means earning an MBA online may be more affordable when you factor in all the costs of pursuing a degree.

How do online healthcare MBA programs differ from on-campus programs?

The most significant differences between these two types of programs ae the delivery method (which can include live lectures, videos, discussion boards, downloads, and chat rooms) and the sequencing. Two-year specialty MBA programs offered on-campus often follow a schedule in which students complete all core business coursework in year one and devote the entirety of year two to concentration courses. Some online healthcare MBA programs follow a similar schedule. Others mix core courses in strategic management, concentration courses related to health services administration and elective courses, or let students complete classes at their own pace.

In terms of content, however, most on-campus and online Master in Business Administration programs with a healthcare management concentration cover the same business topics and healthcare topics in roughly the same number of credit hours. Courses in both traditional and online healthcare MBA programs include:

  • Community Health Management
  • Comparative Health Care Systems
  • Financial Management of Health Institutions
  • Health Economics
  • Health Informatics
  • Health Operations
  • Health Services Delivery: A Managerial Approach
  • Health Services Systems
  • Health System Organizational Behavior
  • Healthcare Data & Analytics
  • Healthcare Information Management
  • Healthcare Entrepreneurship
  • Healthcare Finance
  • Healthcare Law
  • Healthcare Leadership
  • Healthcare Policy
  • Information Technology and Healthcare Management
  • Legal Aspects of Healthcare
  • Managing Health Care Organizations
  • Public Health Administration
  • Strategic Issues for Healthcare Organizations
  • Structural Dynamics in Healthcare

Students in online MBA degree programs frequently have to meet the same capstone, thesis, experiential learning, and internship requirements as on-campus students. They may also have additional residency requirements for healthcare management students. These typically last anywhere from three days to a week and may occur on-campus or in a city where medicine and business tend to intersect, like Boston for biopharma or Austin for large healthcare networks.

Which schools offer the top online healthcare MBA programs?

The following colleges and universities all offer well-regarded healthcare MBA programs online:

Do these online programs have unusually strict prerequisites?

The admissions requirements for healthcare management MBA programs vary from school to school. Still, the admissions criteria at the institutions above aren’t overly strict.

Some require applicants to submit GMAT or GRE scores, while others don’t. The University of Massachusetts – Lowell will waive the GMAT/GRE requirement for students with “proof of 8+ years of professional/managerial experience with permission of the MBA director or alternate waiver option.” George Washington University prefers MBA students to have “at least three years of professional work experience with some experience in the healthcare field” while the University of Arizona asks only for “professional experience” but doesn’t specify what that experience should look like.

The best thing you can do is make sure that you meet admissions requirements before submitting applications.

Are there any downsides to pursuing an MBA in Healthcare online?

Yes, but it’s possible to mitigate them. The most significant benefit of studying on-campus isn’t the facetime with your professors, but instead the interactions with your fellow students in classes and clubs, guest lecturers during special conferences, and industry leaders that your program invites to networking events. The best traditional MBA programs, regardless of concentration, offer students ample opportunities to start building robust professional networks through regular in-person interactions. Even the best online MBA programs can’t replicate those interactions, a definite downside to distance learning.

Still, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to always be one step behind your peers who earned their degrees on-campus. Today’s online learning platforms are much more robust than those of just a decade ago. You may discover that you actually have plenty of chances to connect with your professors and your fellow students through the virtual classroom environment. You can also do a lot to start building your own network by joining professional healthcare industry associations, attending conferences independently, and completing additional internships in healthcare settings.

How can online students maximize the value of their degrees?

Employers don’t typically see a difference between healthcare management degrees earned online and degrees earned on-campus—provided the degree is conferred from a well-known institution that also has an on-campus program. Potential employers will only know you studied online if you choose to volunteer that information. When you earn an online MBA from one of the schools we listed above, you’ll receive the same diploma as students who pursued their degrees on-campus.

That said, some employers respect online degrees more because they recognize that earning a business degree online can already be more difficult than pursuing an MBA in a full-time, on-campus program. Students have to be motivated, driven, and above all, disciplined to complete these programs. They also need to have amazing time-management skills (especially if they’re working while pursuing a degree). You may go out into the world after earning a degree from one of the top online healthcare MBA programs and discover that your degree carries plenty of weight.

If, however, you’re still worried that pursuing a graduate degree in healthcare management online will set you back when you’re looking for healthcare administration jobs or other positions in healthcare settings, you need to analyze what the best on-campus programs offer and find ways to create similar opportunities for yourself. You might not be able to tap into a health sector mentorship program or a healthcare management club for connections, but you can join groups like the:

Building your network as early as possible is essential no matter how you earn your MBA. It’s particularly smart when you choose a distance learning program. The connections you make will open up doors that would be closed to you otherwise. They can also lead to exciting entrepreneurial opportunities that emerge through the sharing of ideas. Remember that careers in healthcare management (especially those involving leadership positions) are often built not on the strength of a person’s business skills but on the strength of their relationships. Enrolling in a strong healthcare MBA program is just the first step on your journey in healthcare management.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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